Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Adult Ed, June 11th -- Catholic Commentary on the Apocalypse, Session 2: Structure and Overview (Part 2 of 9, Father Ryan Erlenbush, Corpus Christi Parish)

Outline of Session 2:  Recognizing the place of Revelation in Sacred Scripture, we consider and overview of the basic flow of the book. The structure of Revelation is not at all clear, but certain themes seem to present themselves in a recurring fashion.  Our hermeneutic (i.e. basic method of interpretation) will be very important for understanding the many themes brought forward in this book.

Listen online [here]!


Catholic Commentary on the Apocalypse
Studying the most perplexing book of the Bible with the great Catholic Scholars
Session 2 – The Overview and Structure of Revelation,
And Interpretive Hermeneutics

Outline of Session 2:  Recognizing the place of Revelation in Sacred Scripture, we consider and overview of the basic flow of the book. The structure of Revelation is not at all clear, but certain themes seem to present themselves in a recurring fashion.  Our hermeneutic (i.e. basic method of interpretation) will be very important for understanding the many themes brought forward in this book.

Overview of the Course, 9 sessions
1) Introduction: St John and the history of the writing of Revelation
2) Overview and Structure of Revelation, and Interpretive Hermeneutics
3) Commentary on Chapters 1-3: Opening Address and Letters to the Seven Churches
4) Commentary on Chapters 4-8: First visions, the book with seven seals, the four horsemen
5) Commentary on Chapters 8-11: The seven trumpets, the two witnesses, judgment
6) Commentary on Chapters 12-14: The Woman, the dragon, the beast, 666, the victory of the Lamb
7) Commentary on Chapters 15-18: The seven plagues, the whore of Babylon, destruction of the City
8) Commentary on Chapters 19-22: The Knight, the Thousand Years, God and Magog, New Creation
9) Key Theological Issues and Review: Millennialism, the Rapture, Final Resurrection and Judgment

[Note: Revelation is 22 chapters and just under 10,000 words (in Greek). Fifth longest book of the New Testament. Shorter than the Gospel of Mark, longer than St Paul’s Letter to the Romans.]

I. Review of last week: St John and the History of the writing of Revelation
A. Authorship and Canonicity of the Book of Revelation: St John the Apostle and Evangelist wrote this book probably in the year 97, after having received visions on the Island of Patmos where he had been exiled after surviving an attempted martyrdom in 92. This makes Revelation the second to last book in the chronology of the writing of Scripture, only the Gospel of John was written later.

B Historical Time Period of Revelation: This book was written to the Churches of Asia Minor which had experienced rapid growth, but also struggled with false teachers/heresies as well as persecutions from both the Jews and especially the Romans.

C. The Place of Revelation in Sacred Scripture: The last book in the Scriptures, it is a conclusion to all that is contained in the rest of the Bible. Revelation is primarily a book of prophecy, which foretells future events but also interprets the present in light of God’s plan.

II. Overview of the Book of Revelation

A. Revelation is made up of 22 chapters, but these should not be seen as hard breaks in the text since they were added later (12th century for chapters, 16th century for verses) and in many cases the themes run through chapter breaks. The book does not admit of any clear structure or organization, however certain patterns and a general overview are possible. Question: Does the order matter? It must!

B. The recurring of the number 7: One way of interpreting Revelation is to see a cyclical recurrence of things or events in sevens.
I. Introduction, Chapter 1. Christ commissions John to write the book of Revelation.
II. Letter to the 7 Churches, Chapters 2-3
III. Introductory vision before the scroll of 7 seals, Chapter 4. God in glory, 24 elders, 7 torches, 4 living creatures
IV. The Scroll with 7 seals, Chapters 5-8. The Lamb opens the seals. The 4 horsemen of the Apocalypse, the 144,000. The seventh seal leads to the seven trumpets.
V. The Seven Trumpets, Chapters 9-11. The introduction of 3 woes (the first two are fulfilled, but the third waits till chapter 16), the destruction of 1/3 of all things, the scroll bitter and sweet, the two witnesses, the judgment. The 7th trumpet is the victory of Christ.
VI. Seven Spiritual Figures that lead up to the 3rd Woe, Chapters 12-15. The Woman, the Dragon (7 heads, 10 horns, 7 crowns), the Sea Beast (7 heads, 10 horns, 10 crowns), the Land Beast (2 horns), the 666, Mount Zion and the Lamb, the 7 bowls of plagues.   [many different ways to add up seven figures]
VII. The seven bowls/plagues, Chapter 16.
VIII. The destruction of evil and victory of Christ, Chapters 17-21. The Whore of Babylon, the Fall of Babylon, the Victory of the Saints, the Knight on a White Horse, the 1,000 years, Gog and Magog, the Judgment, the New Heavens and New Earth.
VIII. Conclusion, Chapter 22.

[the flow then is: 7 Churches – 7 seals – 7 trumpets – 7 figures – 7 bowls/plagues – many remaining events of Christ’s victory over evil from chapter 17 through 21 which perhaps could somehow be broken into 7 last events/figures]

C. A “simpler” outline:
I. Introduction and Letters to the 7 Churches, Chapters 1-3.
II. Eschatological Visions (Chapters 4-22)
            A. Introductory Vision (Chapters 4-5): Lamb, 4 living creatures, Scroll with 7 seals.
            B. First Visions, Events leading up to the final judgement (Chapters 6-11)
                        1. The seven seals (Chapters 6-8)
                        2. The seven trumpets (Chapters 8-11)
            C. Second Visions, The Victory of Christ over Evil (Chapters 11-22)
                        1. The Woman and the Dragon (Chapter 12)
                        2. The Beasts (Chapter 13)
                        3. The Lamb (Chapter 14)
                        4. The Hymn of the Saints (Chapter 15)
                        5. The Seven Bowls of Plagues (Chapters 15-16)
                        6. The Whore of Babylon (Chapter 17)
                        7. The Destruction of Babylon (Chapter 18)
                        8. The Hymn of Victory in Heaven (Chapter 19)
                        9. The Destruction of the Beast (Chapter 19)
                        10. The 1,000 reign (Chapter 20)
                        11. Satan is defeated (Chapter 20)
                        12. The Last Judgement (Chapter 20)
                        13. The New Heavens and New Earth (Chapter 21-22)
III. Conclusion (Chapter 22)

D. The main point here is that the book of Revelation is very confusion and it is extremely difficult to discern the pattern or flow of the book – though a certain basic outline is perhaps possible.

E. A final “outline” – The Book of Revelation follows the basic structure of the Mass.  The first part of the book (Chapters 1-3) is a call to repentance, like the penitential rite of the opening of the Mass. The second part of the opening of the seals of the scroll (chapters 4-8) is like the Liturgy of the Word. The third part which is the rest of the book (chapters 9-22) is the coming of Christ to save his people, similar to the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Important that this is revealed on Sunday “The Lord’s Day.”
While I do not see these parallels as being very strong, I do agree that much in the book of Revelation reflects the Sacred Liturgy of the first Christians. Furthermore, the Mass can be seen as a sign of the Day of Judgment. Also, it is significant that the book starts with letters to the Churches – ecclesiology.

III. Hermeneutics of Interpretation
A. There are three basic approaches to interpreting Revelation: Preterism, Futurism, and Historicism. We might also add an allegorical approach. Especially important to understand all of Scripture because this final book of the Bible builds on all that has come before. [ note about metaphors: example of if an alien read only one book from Earth, Alice in Wonderland]

B. Preterism sees the visions of Revelation as referring principally to events of the time in which the book was written.  Thus, all the plagues and images, the 666 and the beasts, the dragon and whore of Babylon are seen as fulfilled by Rome or Jerusalem, by Roman Emperors or other persecutions, etc.

C. Futurism sees Revelation as referring primarily to the end of time, predicting the events leading up to and occurring with the Final Judgement.

D. Historicism sees Revelation as a “road map” of the history of the world. The various point to certain events/figures of the 1st Century, but extend far beyond to predicting history through the Middle Ages and Enlightenment, all the way till our own time. Finally, the visions show how history will move forward from today until the Second Coming of Christ.
Among those who take an “historical” approach to Revelation, many Protestants see the various beasts and plagues as being fulfilled in certain Popes throughout history and in certain conflicts between the secular States and the Roman Church.  However, Catholic Scholars would reject much of these parallels, and instead see predictions of the ways in which the Church has been persecuted throughout history.

E. An allegorical interpretation sees the visions and events of Revelation not so much as pointing to specific events of any time in history (neither the 1st Century nor the End of Time, nor events throughout the 2,000 years of Church history), but rather as symbols and metaphors for the victory of Christ over the evils of the world, the spiritual growth of the individual soul, and Christ’s promise of salvation to those who are faithful to him.

F. As Catholics, we can see the benefits of each of these interpretive methods, and we make use of them all.  We believe that the literal meaning of Scripture (which is to say, what St John originally intended when he first wrote) is the basis for all other interpretations – thus, understanding the historical context and recognizing the allusions to events current to his time (preterism) will help us to see what Revelation predicts about the end of the world (futurism) and the whole history of the Church (historicism). 

G. Examples of the various interpretations:
Preterist: The beasts, the city Babylon, the whore of Babylon and persecutions of the faithful all refer to the city of Jerusalem and the persecution of the early Christians by the Jews. Thus, the destruction of Babylon is a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.  [or, it could all refer to Rome and Nero and the Roman persecution of the Church – and the sacking of Rome in AD 410].

Futurist: The beast, Babylon, the whore, and persecutions refer to the end of the world and the final tribulation in the days before the last Judgement. An apocalyptic image of the last day.

Historicist: The Protestants see the beasts and Babylon and the whore of Babylon as the political interests of the Papacy and the material wealth of the Roman Church. The Destruction of Babylon would then be the loss of papal power at the time of the Reformation and Enlightenment, etc.
As Catholics, we would reject this attack on the Church. Instead, the beasts and Babylon would be the secularizing powers of the world, and also the many heresies that would attack the Church.

H. Another interesting note: There were relatively few commentaries on the book of Revelation in the early Church, largely because many of the prophecies were in the course of being fulfilled and it seems that it was not until the 400s that the first fulfillment of these prophecies took place.

From the Introduction to Revelation by Fr George Leo Haydock
“As to the time when the chief predictions should come to pass, we have no certainty, as appears by the different opinions, both of the ancient fathers, and late interpreters. Many think that most things set down from the fourth chapter to the end, will not be fulfilled till a little time before the end of the world [Fr Ryan’s note: this is futurism]. Others are of an opinion, that a great part of them, and particularly the fall of the wicked Babylon, happened at the destruction of paganism, by the destruction of heathen Rome, and its persecuting heathen emperors [this is preterism]. […] In fine, others think St. John's design was in a mystical way, by metaphors and allegories, to represent the attempts and persecutions of the wicked against the servants of God, the punishments that should in a short time fall upon Babylon, that is, upon all the wicked in general; the eternal happiness and reward which God had reserved for the pious inhabitants of Jerusalem, that is, for his faithful servants, after their short trials and tribulations of this mortal life [this is allegoricalism].”

St Jerome, “The Apocalypse has as many mysteries as words, or rather mysteries in every word.”

“Being a sealed book, or a hidden mystery, in the beginning of the Church, when nothing of this important prophecy had yet been fulfilled, it is no wonder we are deprived of the usual lights which we have hitherto followed in expounding the Scripture, viz. the works of the fathers. So little was it indeed understood at that time, that by many it was long considered as a reverie, and an extravagant composition, though the most learned always looked upon it as an inspired work. One reason, which may have led the faithful to class this among the apocryphal works, was the number of fables and illusions published by the misguided piety of the ignorant.”

“But it should never be forgotten, that the connection of sublime and prophetical ideas which compose this work, has at all times been a labyrinth, in which the greatest geniuses have lost themselves, and a rock on which most commentators have split.”

“The fathers living before the accomplishment of the events, have of course given us no interpretation. Those, therefore, who have written on it at all, have explained it in a mere moral sense, and drawn from it useful parables and instructions. None of them have given a regular systematic explanation. It must, however, be observed, as a circumstance of some moment, that many of them, particularly Sts. Augustine and Jerome, thought the Apocalypse contained prophecies regarding the whole time of the existence of the Church of Christ, till its triumphant state in the new Jerusalem [this is historicism].”

“Among the moderns we have abundant interpreters of the Apocalypse in all the reformed Churches. It has indeed grown into a mania among them, the only difference being their respective degrees of absurdity. This has been to all of them the common quarry, whence they have hewn the stones to cast at their mother Church. For to this day they have continued to disgrace themselves and Christianity, by depicting the Church of Rome as the whore of Babylon, popery the beast, and the pope antichrist.”


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